Experts say that an open race and a high turnout rate contributed to Miller-Meeks’ gains in 2nd District.

The closest race in recent history occurred in Iowa’s 2nd District and after recounts in all 24 counties, Miller-Meeks was declared the winner by six votes. Experts say that her win was aided by the retiring of an incumbent and the riding of presidential coattails.



Lauren White, Politics Reporter

A retiring incumbent and presidential coattails helped Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks secure a six-point lead in the certified results in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, after three previous failed attempts.

While the official state canvass certified Miller-Meeks’ lead, the race hasn’t been called by the Associated Press, and Democrat Rita Hart announced Wednesday that her campaign will pursue legal challenges. If Miller-Meeks holds on to her lead, she will replace retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, on Jan. 3, 2021.

Eric Woolson, spokesperson for the Miller-Meeks campaign, said Loebsack’s decision to retire helped in Miller-Meeks’ campaign. Miller-Meeks lost to Loebasck in 2008, 2010, and 2014, and Woolson said incumbents win over 91 percent of House races.

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Miller-Meeks’ slim lead translates to 49.9 percent of the 2020 vote. In 2008, she got 38.8 percent of the vote, compared to Loebsack’s 57.2 percent. She made some gains in future contests, receiving 45.9 percent in 2010 and 47.4 percent in 2014, but Loebsack kept more than 50 percent of support both times.

Iowa’s 2nd District was one of 30 Democrat-held districts that Trump won in 2016, and this year it was the only open district, which Woolson said also aided Miller-Meeks’ victory. These factors contributed to making the race one of the most competitive in history and, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee, was considered among the top few to most likely represent a Republican gain.

“We expected from the very beginning that it would be a close contest. I’m sure no one expected that it would be this close but 2020 has been an unusual year and this outcome is just one more example of that,” Woolson said.

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, Iowa broke records for turnout this election.

University of Iowa political science Professor Caroline Tolbert said this helped Miller-Meeks get the boost that she hadn’t received in the past.

Due to the extremely high turnout election, Tolbert said, Miller-Meeks benefited from the people who showed up to vote for President Trump.

“Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District has always been very competitive. Before Loebsack, a Democrat, the seat was held by a Republican for a long time. In the end it was basically a toss up, and the Republican candidate did slightly better,” Tolbert said.

Recent polls from Pew Research Center show that 95 percent of people voted straight ticket in the 2020 election, sticking to their party down the ballot.

Christopher Lerimer, a political science Professor at University of Northern Iowa, said people across the state were paying attention to this historic race.

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Lerimer said the election in 2022 will determine if the district will see a long-term Republican representative. Redistricting happens in the spring of 2021, so at that point if district boundaries are changed significantly, he said it could determine the entire political affiliation of the district.

“Trump won Iowa by a large margin this year so he was able to mobilize a lot of Republicans. Especially new Republicans, and that could have contributed significantly to Miller-Meeks’ success,” Lerimer said.

Iowa State University political science Professor Stephen Schmidt said that Democrats in Iowa faced a rare challenge this year. While Trump lost the election, Schmidt said he had a huge impact on conservative voter turnout and people who voted Republican down the ballot in Senate and House races where Republicans did well in 2020.

“A very visible, energetic Donald Trump mobilized conservatives and Republicans in a way I have never seen in 50 years as a professor and analyst,” Schmidt said.

During this election, Republicans increased their House members narrowing their minority. Miller-Meek’s victory is the 9th flipped by a Republican woman. This is the second seat in Iowa alone to be flipped by a Republican woman.

Schmidt said another factor to the high number of Republican victories in the 2020 election, including Miller-Meeks, were Black Lives Matter protests that had physical altercations with law enforcement and messages of defunding the police, which caused Democrats to almost lose control of the House.

RELATED: Miller-Meeks leads 2nd District by six votes with all county recounts complete

“I am certain these were the factors that caused such a close race, the tightest race in the USA was right in the 2nd District,” Schmidt said. “The 2nd District was Democratic for 14 years. Now suddenly it has flipped by six votes. I believe that we are allowing political representation to be scored by sports standards. If a team wins by one point it is a winner.”

A representative who won by a margin of six votes does not represent a district, Schmidt said. Woolson said Miller-Meeks is committed to representing every constituent in Iowa’s 2nd District.

Hart campaign spokesperson Riley Kilburg said the race is not over yet. The campaign wants to ensure the correct vote counts are certified, despite all 24 counties in the district recounting their ballots. The campaign filed a contest with the House Committee on Administration to review the election results.

Kilburg said Hart ran a strong campaign while running against a Republican with high name recognition and millions of dollars of outside spending, though both candidates had outside spending of more than $7 million.

“In the weeks to come, we will file a petition with the House Committee on Administration requesting that these votes be counted, and we hope that Mariannette Miller-Meeks will join us in working to ensure that every Iowans’ voice is heard,” Hart campaign manager Zach Meunier said in a Wednesday press release.